Looking for some cheap, fun and cool things to see and do in Calgary? Well get on your horse because this city has some very unique options for you.
4 Must-Try Hotels in Calgary
Country Inn & Suites by Carlson, a TripAdvisor Award of Excellence Winner.
Hotel Blackfoot, a TripAdvisor Award of Excellence Winner.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Airport , 80% approval rating.
Comfort Inn & Suites South, laundry facilities and waterslide.
More ideas: Cheap Hotels & Places to Stay in Calgary
Check Groupon for Deals on Calgary Things to Do
Visit the Calgary Groupon page and you’ll find savings of anywhere from 40-90% on attractions, tours, theatre tickets, activities, golf, skiing, comedy, dinner spots and accommodations.
The Groupon Calgary page is a smart place to check out when you’re first planning your trip and even when you’re in the middle of your Calgary visit because new deals get added weekly and even daily many times.
Don’t miss the Calgary Stampede
If you’re planning a trip to Calgary, do yourself a favour and organize your getaway for when the Calgary Stampede is on.
Over 100 years old and dubbed the “greatest outdoor show on earth”, the Calgary Stampede lives up to its billing. It’s definitely one of the coolest, most fun Calgary experiences you can have.
We’re talking bucket-list worthy.
Held each year for 10 days at the beginning of July, the Stampede features a midway with rides, games and food; agricultural events and demonstrations; live music and concerts; one of the world’s richest rodeos—the winners of each event receive $100,000; thrilling chuckwagon races and a spectacular grandstand show every night that easily rivals anything you’ve ever seen by Cirque du Soleil or on Broadway.
It left this ThriftyTourist.ca reporter saying, “Wow!”
TIP: Purchase your tickets in advance for the opening night performance of the Grandstand Show and you can save up to 40%.
Visit one of the world’s great zoos
Animal lovers should include the Calgary Zoo on their list of cool things to see and do when visiting the city.
The most visited zoo in Canada and a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence winner, the Calgary Zoo is internationally recognized as one of the top zoos in the world for conservation research.
The accolades don’t end there—the Association of Zoos and Aquariums refer to the Calgary Zoo “as one of the top zoos in the world”.
Open every day of the year except for Christmas Day, the Calgary Zoo is home to almost 1,000 animals and over 100 species. 29 of these species are considered in danger of extinction.
Pack a lunch, slap on the sunscreen, slip on your walking shoes and explore six different habitats. You’ll meet up with gorillas, giraffes, hippos, lemurs, bears, four adorable giant pandas, penguins, colourful winged wonders in the butterfly conservatory and more.
Don’t miss The Penguin Walk
Visiting Calgary between January and March?
Check the Calgary Zoo website to see if The Penguin Walk is scheduled for 11:00 AM.
During this can’t-help-but-smile event, the zoo’s king penguins go for a 15-minute stroll stretching from their Penguin Plunge home all the way to Discovery Bridge and back.
The Daily Penguin Walk only takes place if the temperature is between +5 C and -25 C, so check beforehand to make sure it’s a go the day you want to head over.
So, what do you do to get to the zoo?
The Calgary Zoo is located just east of the city’s downtown core. Drive a vehicle, or for a few bucks hop on the C-Train light rail system. If you want to get there for free, you can bike or walk to the zoo by taking the Bow River pathway.
TIP#1: If you buy your tickets ahead of time on the Calgary Zoo website, you’ll save $3 off each ticket.
TIP#2: Want to avoid the lineup to see the pandas? For free of charge you can get a timed ticket which will allow you to skip the line at the Panda Passage. Book your timed ticket to see the pandas when you purchase your ticket online or at a ticket kiosk or window.
Worth the march over
The Military Museums of Calgary is a wonderful, affordable thing to do. It’s actually eight museums in one, including the Naval, Army and Air Force Museums of Alberta.
Here you’ll learn about the military efforts, triumphs and tragedies of the Canadian forces.
Walk through a WWI trench, stand at the helm of a WWI wheelhouse and witness a bomber squadron’s mission over enemy territory. T
here are even veterans on hand to provide you with a first person account of Canada’s military involvement.
To go on a mission to The Military Museums of Calgary is definitely a fun, cheap thing to see and do in the city—just $10 per adult, $4 for kids, kids under 7 are free and if you’re bringing the whole troop, a family admission is only $20.
A day at the museum
Another historic thing to do in Calgary that’s also cheap on the pocket book is a day at the Glenbow Museum.
One of the largest museums in Canada, the Glenbow Museum has over a million artifacts to see and over 28,000 paintings.
Learn about the mavericks who founded Alberta and the Blackfoots who have lived for thousands of years on the plains of Alberta.
Marvel at Asian sculptures; some dating back to the first century.
See the earth’s oldest rock.
Have fun taking in modern art by Emily Carr, Jack Shadbolt and more.
Adult admission to this cheap, fun thing to see and do in Calgary is $14, youth $9, kids 6 and under are free and a family of 6 can get in for just $32.
Interact with Canadian sports heroes
Calgary is home to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. Just a few years old, the hall is an awesome, fun, cheap thing to see and do.
It’s full of cool sports memorabilia and artifacts including the running shoe that Terry Fox dipped into the Atlantic Ocean to begin his Marathon of Hope.
There are lots of interactive displays at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame too—box against Lennox Lewis, try wheelchair racing, become a major league baseball catcher or an NHL goalie, and more.
This place is a real sport about the admission price: Adults are just $12, youth $8, kids 3 and under are free and a family of 4 can get in for $35.
Skate the Olympic Oval
If you’re a fan of the Olympic Games, Calgary offers up a unique, cheap thing to do—the opportunity to skate on the same ice as Olympic champion speed skaters.
That’s right, between July 1st and March 31st, you can strap on a pair of blades and go for a spin on the Olympic Ice Oval that was used for the speed skating event at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games.
Adults just $6.75, kids $4.50 and a family of 3 only $18. You can rent skates if you don’t have your own—you can even rent real speed skates, the ones with the extended blades, if you want. Wicked fun, or what!
Go on a Dinosaur Hunt
If you’ve got a set of wheels and are up for a drive, a day trip to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, home to one of the world’s largest displays of dinosaurs is an awesome cheap thing to do.
The hour and a half drive from Calgary is a scenic one, and even if you’re not a dinosaur freak you will be amazed when you see the “Dinosaur Hall” at the Royal Tyrrell Museum which features 40 dinosaur specimens including a tyrannosaurus.
Adults $11, youth $6, kids 6 and under free and a family of two adults and up to six youth, just $30.
And here’s another fun, cheap thing to do while you’re there–for an extra $8 per person you can go on a guided hike and search for fossils and see real dinosaur remains that are still in the ground.
Make time to explore The Badlands
The Royal Tyrrell Museum is located in an area called The Canadian Badlands. The landscape here is one of the most unique in Canada; where else can you see prairies, grasslands, hoodoo rock formations (they look like giant mushrooms), coulees and ravines all in the same drive?
The whole area used to be a jungle but the ice age changed all that.
When the glaciers receded they scoured and sculpted out the Red Deer Valley and as they did they exposed bones of dinosaurs that lived a mind-blowing 75 million years ago.
Experience the awe of Horseshoe Canyon
The dramatic changes in landscape in The Badlands have to be seen to be believed.
Be sure and schedule time in your trip to the Royal Tyrrell Museum to see some of the incredible views and sites, like Horseshoe Canyon.
Imagine you are driving through flat-as-the-eye-can-see prairie lands and then all of the sudden the ground opens up and their before you is what some have described as a mini-Grand Canyon.
Sit down and take in the magnificent view or hike down to the Horseshoe Canyon floor. Bring water though as temperatures in the Canyon can reach as high as 40 C.
Scenic Badlands driving tours
Want to see even more of the area?
If you prefer, you can even take a full-day guided tour of the Drumheller and the Badlands.
Anyone who heads out west to Calgary imagines that one of the cool things they will see when they venture into mountain country is animals. It’s true—you do have a good chance of seeing deer, elk and mountain goats. Possibly even a bear or two.
But if you want to guarantee seeing animals up close, here are a couple other great options.
About an hour outside of Calgary, while on your way to Banff, be sure to take a detour off Highway 1A and spend a couple hours at the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary. Wolfdogs are exactly what their name suggests—animals that are part wolf and part dog.
Wolfdogs originated when the early fur traders thought they could create the ultimate work dog by cross breeding a wolf with their sled dogs.
Today people are attracted to the exoticness of owning a wolfdog. Unfortunately, the higher the wolf content in the animal, the greater they will not act like a domesticated dog.
Wolves like to roam, dig, explore with their teeth and claws, and they have a predatory instinct—characteristics that don’t make them an ideal pet. When owners decide they can’t handle having a wolfdog anymore, they call the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary.
The mission at the sanctuary is to rescue wolfdogs and educate the public about them.
Plan a visit here and not only will you get to see the wolfdogs up close, you can also ask questions at a number of interpretive sessions hosted by the knowledgeable, enthusiastic staff.
If you’re lucky you may even hear all 20-plus wolfdogs howling in unison, which happened twice while this ThriftyTourist.ca reporter was visiting.
Stop at this famous, 75-year-old ice cream shop
About 15 minutes on your way back to Calgary, leave the highway and head into Cochrane for a treat at McKay’s Ice Cream.
This charming ice cream shop has been serving delicious, locally-made ice cream since 1948.
Family-owned and operated for three generations, ice cream lovers from all over the world stop at McKay’s Ice Cream. Often the lineup stretches outside and down the sidewalk.
Once you step inside, be prepared; picking a flavour will be very difficult! The eclectic menu includes avocado, bubble gum, caramel apple pie, cotton candy, licorice, maple bacon, nanaimo bar, pina colada, raspberry cheesecake, root beer, strawberry-rhubard pie and many more.
The biggest treat of all? McKay’s Ice Cream is open every day of the year except for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.
Guarantee yourself a bear sighting
Want to see a bear?
Drive an hour north of Calgary to the Discovery Wildlife Park.
This fun, cool place to visit is home to animals that were in crisis i.e. animals that were orphaned and couldn’t be released back in the wild or were exotic pets. Among the inhabitants are black bears, a grizzly bear, wolves, deer, cougars and more.
There are a number of animal presentations hosted by the Discovery Wildlife Park keepers.
When you arrive at the park make checking the schedule of shows a priority.
You especially don’t want to miss the bear presentation. It’s an amazing and entertaining way to see black bears and a grizzly bear just a few feet away and to learn all about them.
Drive The Cowboy Trail
When people head out to Calgary it’s usually because they are planning to go from there to visit Banff and see the mountains and the incredible scenery.
But that’s not the only way to experience stunning views and landscapes. Another equally breathtaking way is to drive The Cowboy Trail.
The Cowboy Trail, or Highway #22, is about 30 minutes outside of Calgary.
It runs through the heart of Alberta ranchland—cowboy country—where the ranches stretch for miles, the sky seems to go on forever and the Rocky Mountains are always in view.
This free, fun thing to do is a spectacular drive that will only enhance your appreciation for the beauty and magnitude of Alberta.
Like any road trip there are stops along the way you can make that will enrich your experience. Here are a few free, fun and cheap things to incorporate in your itinerary
Visit a Ranch
As you drive The Cowboy Trail you can quickly see that the cowboy life is still alive and well.
Why not experience it firsthand?
One way you can is by visiting the Bar U Ranch.
Established in 1882, this was once the largest ranch in the entire country—over 160,000 acres and home to 30,000 head of cattle. Today it’s a National Historical Site that you can visit to learn about life on the ranch.
Want to take the ranch life experience one-step further?
A fun thing to do is to book a guided horseback trail ride in the high mountains with the Anchor D Ranch.
Saddle up for a few hours, a whole day, even multiple days. Whichever trail ride experience you choose you’re sure to feel like a true cowboy when you’re done.
Spend a day or two at Waterton Lakes National Park
Get up close and personal with the mountains by heading south on Highway #22, then take Highway #3 and Highway #6 to Waterton Lakes National Park. Here at this cheap, fun thing to do the mountains are so close it feels like they are looking right over your shoulder.
Sit by the lake and take in the majesty of the mountains or why not pack your gear and go for a hike?
There are some amazing trails to explore here including Bertha Falls and, what National Geographic calls “one of the world’s most thrilling trails”, Crypt Lake.
What makes it so thrilling?
Well traversing this trail includes a ladder, tunnel and chains.
Another cool, fun thing to do at Waterton Lakes National Park is the two-hour guided cruise of the lake.
Included in this boat ride is more amazing mountain views, entertaining commentary and a covert crossing into the United States. How so? Because half way down the lake the boat cruises over the international border into Glacier National Park in Montana.
When you enter Waterton Lakes it’s impossible to miss the Prince of Wales Hotel. It commands your attention from its perch on a bluff overlooking Waterton Lake.
A fun thing to do here is to pop in for a spot of tea or a cocktail in the hotel’s main floor lounge and take in the postcard-perfect view of the mountains and lake.
Want a souvenir?
The town centre in Waterton Lakes boasts some great restaurants settle into and shops with one-of-a-kind keepsakes to peruse.
Discover the devastation of The Frank Slide
One of the most unique things to see near Calgary, Alberta is the site of The Frank Slide, Canada’s most deadliest rockslide.
On April 29, 1903, at 4:10 in the morning, while the unsuspecting citizens of the small, mining town of Frank slept, approximately 100 million tons of rock broke free from the peak of nearby Turtle Mountain.
The ambush of rock thundered down the slope.
Less than 100 seconds later the eastern side of the town was buried under 14-45 metres of mostly limestone.
When the dust had settled the swath of rock spanned three square kilometres and more than 90 people were dead.
Today you can see the enormity of this natural disaster with your own eyes by stepping out on the outdoor observation deck at The Frank Slide Interpretive Centre located across the highway from Turtle Mountain.
A massive bed of giant-sized boulders, stacked high on top of one another, stretch out before you.
As you look up at Turtle Mountain to where the rock once clung, then back across the devastated area, it’s overwhelming to contemplate.
How much rock is scattered here?
Enough to construct a wall six metres high from Victoria, BC to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Inside the interpretive centre you can relive the disaster through engaging displays and a mesmerizing 25-minute film recounting that faithful night.
Outside, there’s a self-guided 1.5 kilometre hike through the rock zone you can take as well.
Go underground at the Bellevue Mine
A short drive down to road from The Frank Slide is a cool, cheap fun thing to do—the Bellevue Underground Mine Tour.
The mine opened in 1903 and was in operation for 58 years.
Over the course of almost six decades, 13 million tons of coal was mined, 90% of which was consumed by steam engines belonging to the Canadian Pacific railway.
In its heyday the Bellevue mine stretched 5.6 kilometres and boasted 240 kilometres of total tunnel distance.
Take the tour and you’ll dawn a helmet and lamp and venture 1,000 feet into the mine and approximately 150 feet underground.
Along the way you’ll learn how the coal was mined, the perils of working underground, precautions that had to be taken, what the pay was like, and why many who worked at Bellevue Mine believe it was, and still is, haunted.
TIP: Bring an extra layer—it’s cold underground—somewhere between zero and two degrees Celsius even on the hottest summer day.
A few food stops along the way
All that exploring of The Cowboy Trail is sure to leave you famished.
There are plenty of food stops on the trail.
Here are a few unique and fun suggestions that will satisfy your hunger and your craving for a memorable experience.
Alberta is beef country so you may be wondering where is the best place to get a steak?
Many consider the Longview Steakhouse to be number one. If you plan on deciding for yourself, make sure you make a reservation first— this steakhouse books up fast.
Equally renowned is the Longview Jerky Shop. In business since 1978, this third-generation family business makes and sells over 30 flavours of jerky. If you love jerky, you have to stop here.
So you know who reputably has the best steak in Alberta, what about the best burger?
Well out on The Cowboy Trail many folks consider the Chuckwagen Café in Turner Valley to be the spot.
The beef they use for their burgers is farm fresh—it’s actually sourced from a ranch that belongs to the café’s owner. The burgers are so good, the Chuckwagen Café was featured on the TV show “You Gotta Eat Here”.
Over in Black Diamond there are a couple of palate-pleasing places you should check out.
If fresh baked goods are your guilty pleasure, visit the Black Diamond Bakery. Proudly boasting that it’s the oldest scratch bakery in Alberta, the Black Diamond Bakery will make your mouth water with its bread, donuts, pastries, pies.
Another fun thing to do is to visit Marv’s Classic Soda Shop in Black Diamond.
This place is classic in every way from the table top juke boxes and memorabilia to the ice cream floats, milkshakes, sodas, fries and burgers.
They even sell retro candy and souvenirs that will have memories popping into your head from days gone by.
The burger menu at Marv’s Classic Soda Shop is fun and eclectic boasting names such as the James Dean, Fonzie and Peggy Sue. Order the Elvis burger and it comes with a song. If your taste buds are feeling adventurous try the Goober burger, Canada’s original peanut butter burger.
Be thrifty and practical! This information was accurate when published, but can change without notice. We recommend you confirm all details with the provider in question before planning your excursion.